I Believe in a Pale Blue Dot – Inspired by Carl Sagan – Written By Ransom Mowris
It’s a fairly simple picture, a black background and a few vertical stripes, looking somewhat similar to beams of light in a rainbow. But something stands out, a tiny blue dot in the middle of one of the stripes. At first glance, it might be mistaken as a mere computer glitch. A seemingly inconsequential dead pixel, a tiny dot stubbornly shining blue in an otherwise dark image. It seems to be a minor annoyance, a sign one might need to have their monitor repaired, not the home of trillions of living things. But, once one has traveled almost 4 billion miles away from home, that’s all Earth is reduced to; a tiny, distant blue speck among a sea of stars and galaxies.
The Voyager spacecraft is the furthest human-made object from Earth. Launched September 5, 1977, it has since traveled 10 billion miles from home, still advancing, even now, at a steady pace of 10 miles a second, 864,000 miles a day. On February 14, 1990, Voyager turned around and took its last pictures of the solar system. One of the pictures, named “Pale Blue Dot” by Carl Sagan, shows Earth, a minute blue speck in a beam of sunlight. On that negligible mote of dust, our entire species has carried out its history.
This history has been one of broadening horizons. Through thousands of tiny steps, we have sought to expand our home, to learn our place in the Universe. Just as our tribal ancestors expanded their territory by joining together to create villages, cities and eventually nations, the modern man has experienced a similar broadening of horizons. Until about 450 years ago, it was generally accepted that Earth was the center of all the Universe, and everything rotated around us. In the 16th century, Copernicus and Galileo proved that the Earth rotates around the Sun, and us Earthlings reluctantly accepted our loss of prominence. By the 19th century, we learned that the Sun isn’t the center of the Universe either, and we, once more, had to accept our newfound insignificance. The Sun, the source of all energy, and the King of the Gods for many ancient religions wasn’t so magnificent after all. We, as we’ve been doing since our species began, broadened our horizons.
Voyager’s picture perfectly captures our place in the Universe. We are a single species, one of millions living on an insignificant rock, circling an insubstantial star, on the outer rim of an inconsequential galaxy. The Milky Way is one of hundreds of billions of other galaxies, each of which contains hundreds of billions of stars, with immeasurable numbers of planets circling their own stars. But for now, that little blue dot is everything. It’s everything we have ever known. It might be thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years until we can expand to another planet. For now, we’re stuck on this rock.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.